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I had to train in a sandpit on a children’s playground” – Clarke

England beach soccer captain Aaron Clarke discusses his journey from sandpits in Shoreditch to Barcelona and the legacy he wants to leave.

  • England are yet to qualify for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup
  • European qualifiers for Seychelles 2025 begin in September
  • Captain Aaron Clarke is intent on creating a pathway to the finals

The FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup UAE 2024 Dubai™ was a spellbinding show of breathtaking moments and record-breaking matches. Not everyone was on the guest list of the sport’s biggest party yet, however. England captain Aaron Clarke watched the tournament from home and, while dazzled by the event’s quality, wants nothing more than to see the Three Lions have a crack on global sand.

“I watched all of it, it was an amazing tournament,” Clarke told FIFA. “I thought the standard was really high and the fans were fantastic. I thought it was an amazing final.

“It’s so hard to get to [the tournament], especially for teams in Europe. Only four make it through the qualifiers, which are very, very intense. We’re not funded by the FA, which means we have to go and find the funding and the sponsorships. All of our players have jobs.”

While beach soccer is still very much in its infancy in the country, Clarke has been with the set-up since it was far closer to ground level. After playing academy football, he was invited down to a beach soccer trial, aged just 20, in Bournemouth on England’s south coast. It perhaps wasn’t love at first sight but for Clarke, who juggles the sport with youth coaching at Arsenal’s academy, sticking with something is in his DNA.

“I’d love to say I adapted really well but playing and running on sand is super difficult,” Clarke admitted. “But I’d played enough football at a decent level where I could display a good technical level, and that showed in the first session on the sand.

“The manager asked me to do some individual training with him but the crazy thing was, because it’s London and there aren’t beaches everywhere. We had to train in a sandpit in a children’s playground. There was one in Shoreditch which they used for volleyball. We used it just to learn the basics of being able to dribble, run and keep the ball up.”

Then in 2012, after six months of rigorous training, Aaron earned his England debut. Two years later, the Three Lions were invited to play Tahiti in an exhibition match to celebrate one year since the Oceanians hosted the Beach Soccer World Cup. During the trip he met Tahiti coach Angelo Schirinzi, who informed him of the sport’s growth in his native Switzerland and invited Clarke to play for his club side.

Like most players who want to make a living out of beach soccer, he travelled around, going on to play for Barcelona, Malaga and Valencia in Spain and spent time in Italy, before returning to England to balance his focus on coaching and running a personal training business. Now aged 32, six years into his captaincy and with 153 caps to his name, Clarke is keen to use his experience to help the upcoming generation, while setting realistic targets for the national side.

“We’ve got a nice balance of players in our 30s, a younger group in their mid-20s, and then a couple of youngsters,” Clarke said. “We’ve got the World Cup qualifiers in September, which will be really tough. We didn’t go to the last qualifiers because of our budget, but we’ll go this year with a goal and mentality of wanting to qualify. We’ll never say never.

“We’re probably looking at the next six to eight years for qualifying to be the goal, with funding and everything else considered. We know we’re not Spain or Brazil whereas, in the past, we’ve tried to be those teams. “Now the DNA of England is different. Instead of crying and feeling sorry for ourselves, we’ve put our backs against the wall and we’re ready to fight against anyone.

“We recently beat Spain, we went toe to toe with Germany and should have beaten them. All we want to do is compete in games, regardless of the result, to show the fans we can compete with the powerhouses and prove that there is a massive demand for this sport.

“I’d love to leave a legacy where England have a team of players, which could be full-time or even part-time. They would be getting some money, and there’d be a pathway for youngsters to just play beach soccer and not focus and having a normal day job.”

You can follow Aaron’s journey as England captain on Instagram and TikTok.

Credits: FIFA



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